Opinion: Tales of terrible tablet timing

Tales of terrible tablet timing
Credit: Microsoft

In a seemingly bizarre not-harmonic convergence earlier this week, Microsoft, Nokia and Apple all held major tablet events within 12 hours of each other.

First, at midnight Monday night/Tuesday morning, Microsoft started selling its Surface 2 and Surface Pro upgrades at 10 of its stores nationwide. Then, at 11 a.m. Abu Dhabi time (3 a.m. New York time), Nokia unveiled its Lumia 2520 tablet. Finally, at 10 a.m. San Francisco time, Apple announced its two new iPads.

To no one's surprise, Apple's iPad announcement swamped coverage of the other two. The headline on the CNN.com homepage during the interregnum between the Nokia and Apple ceremonies summed up the resulting attention disparity:

What To Expect From Apple And Nokia

Let me translate: the media (or at least CNN) thought what Apple was about to do was more newsworthy than what Nokia had just done. CNN couldn't even be bothered to write a separate headline for Nokia, just adding its name as an afterthought. Oh, sorry, did someone else say something?

But Nokia at least got its name mentioned. How about mainstream coverage of Microsoft's Surface events?

Crickets.

How can Microsoft or Nokia hope to tackle Apple and iPad technologically if they can't even compete in the dog-eat-dog world of event planning?

Timing Trouble

These observations are not a commentary on the quality of the varying tablets. But they may be a commentary on the quality of Apple's marketing and PR department. Based on scant evidence, it seems Apple's marketing people simply out-maneuvered and, more importantly, out-scheduled its Microsoft and Nokia counterparts.

For instance, when Microsoft initially unveiled its next gen Surfaces on Sept. 23, the company also announced the tablets would go on sale on October 22. The next day, Nokia announced the date for its annual Nokia World confab, this year in Abu Dhabi, at which it would formally present its 10.1-inch Lumia 2520 tablet. That's right, you guessed it — on October 22.

Haven't these guys ever watched The Godfather? Never tell anybody outside the family what you're thinking, especially when you know your 8,000-pound tablet opponent is plotting its iPad updates.

Armed with this competitive intel, Apple exploited its opportunity to evaluate its iPad presentation options. And exactly two weeks after Microsoft and Nokia exposed their tablet plans (thanks for sharing!), Apple leaked its iPad event would be held (wait for it) — October 22.

What a coincidence!

In The middle Of The Night

Regardless of Apple's timing scheming, Microsoft and Nokia can't entirely blame Apple for swamping their news space. In both cases, their problems began and ended in the dark.

As noted, Microsoft held its in-store Surface 2/Pro launches at midnight. On a Monday night. When all little reporters are in bed watching "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report." What media outlets did Microsoft expect would cover a weeknight midnight event, the Insomnia News ("All the news that's fit to lose sleep over")?

And what buyers did they think would show up at the witching hour? Apparently, nearly no one, not even witches.

What stories did appear focused not on the device, but the lack of consumer attendance, especially when compared to the mobs that swarm Apple stores on on-sale days. Less than 300 people showed up at the Bellevue, Washington, Square Mall Microsoft store, located less than a mile from the company's headquarters, most to either enter a contest or get an autograph from Seattle Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. Microsoft sponsored similar sports celebrity spicing at some of its other sparsely-attended in-store events as well.

Microsoft easily could have scheduled these Surface soirées when the malls in which its stores were located had higher traffic — say, lunch time? Sunday afternoon? A weekend or daytime event would have not only attracted more visitors, but the low numbers who showed up at midnight would have been less obvious and news coverage could have made the local evening news broadcasts.

And it wasn't as if Microsoft didn't know what Apple planned. Microsoft announced its in-store Surface launch events the day AFTER the date of Apple's iPad event leaked. As soon as it learned what Apple had planned the day following its own events, Microsoft could have re-considered its own wee hour plans.

Comic Timing

Nokia had even more options than its new corporate partner (which raises this fascinating tablet competition question).

Okay, Abu Dhabi is an exotic locale. It caters to Nokia's natural European and Asian constituency. Got it. But the Nokia Lumia 2520 is intended for the U.S. market. So why schedule its announcement for 3 a.m. New York time, midnight California time? It was me and less than a minyan of other bleary-eyed U.S. reporter minions watching and tweeting the live Nokia World stream.

If Nokia had scheduled its Lumia 2520 press conference nine hours later, at a perfectly reasonable 8 p.m. Abu Dhabi start time, that would have made it possible to hold simultaneous media events at 11 a.m. in New York, 6 a.m in London and 8 a.m. in California, potentially producing plenty of usurpation coverage before Tim Cook could stride on-stage in San Francisco.

But neither Microsoft nor Nokia could adapt to Apple's iPad pronouncement plans. Instead, both answered the question: "If you hold a graveyard shift event, does it make a sound?"

Apparently not.

(Event planning is not as black and white as it sounds. Press announcement events are usually planned months in advance — to give reasonable time for journalists to fly in — and location reservations usually can't be refunded once dates are locked in. And because locations are rentals, changing the date or even booking a more logical announcement time, as Stewart suggests, may not have been possible. Apple's new iPad invite also wasn't made public until only one week before October 22. By then, it was probably already too late for Nokia to reschedule its event in Abu Dhabi or change the announcement time. — Deputy Editor.)

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